Cameron Jamaican trip: Slavery reparations sidelined, but jail to be built

John Wight
John Wight has written for newspapers and websites across the world, including the Independent, Morning Star, Huffington Post, Counterpunch, London Progressive Journal, and Foreign Policy Journal. He is also a regular commentator on RT and BBC Radio. John is currently working on a book exploring the role of the West in the Arab Spring. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnWight1
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (C) and his Jamaican counterpart Portia Simpson-Miller (red jacket) arrive at the National Heroes Park in Kingston, Jamaica September 30, 2015. © Gilbert Bellamy
When people think about the history of the slave trade they commonly think only of the US slave trade. Less well known is the history of the British slave trade. Jamaica’s intervention has just changed all that.

British Prime Minister David Cameron’s recent visit to Jamaica proved a humiliating experience not only for him but for the entire British establishment. It was the first visit to the former British colony by a prime minister in fourteen years, and given how it turned out it’s a fair bet it will be at least another fourteen years before a British prime minister visits the Caribbean island again.

Cameron’s visit kicked off with his announcement that Britain is to invest £25 million in building a new prison on the island; so that Jamaican nationals currently being held in British prisons can be deported home. However, his announcement was overshadowed by a demand for reparations from Britain by Jamaican campaigners and politicians over Britain’s role in a slave trade which decimated

Jamaica and the wider Caribbean; and which has been a factor in the region’s economic and social dislocation and retardation since.

Britain’s slave trade lasted from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century. Research reveals that 10,000 ships were sent from Britain to Africa over the course of the British slave trade, from where they carried slaves to work on British slave plantations in the Americas, including Jamaica. Professor and historian, David Richardson, has calculated that a total of around 3.5 million African slaves were transported on these slave ships.

Also known as the ‘triangular trade’, ships transporting slaves to the Americas were then loaded with the sugar, tobacco, and other goods produced on the plantations, before being carried back to Europe where they were sold to finance sending said ships to Africa again for more slaves, thus repeating the cycle.

In the early 18th century the slave trade was the most lucrative part of Britain’s economy. Without the huge income it derived Britain would never have been able to develop the industrial and military strength responsible for forging its empire and, with it, the political, cultural, and social institutions that helped cement its status as the most powerful country in the world during the 18th and 19th century.

This power and economic might was built on the backs of the savagery and barbarity of human slavery, during which millions of men, women, and children suffered and endured unimaginable cruelty. Countries such as Jamaica were de-developed, their societies, histories, and cultures scarred beyond measure. Those scars are yet to heal.

What opponents of reparations, such as David Cameron, either fail or refuse to understand is that it is not merely a matter of financial recompense. Of more importance is the recognition of the injustice and barbarity involved in this brutal history, which is vital if we are to ever establish a world founded on justice and democracy not only within states but also between states.

The former has been used as justification for Western military interventions over recent years, when in truth these military interventions, involving Britain, have been motivated not by the objective of fomenting democracy within states but with the goal of crushing democracy between states.

The past and the present are inextricably linked and Britain’s slave trade cannot be underestimated in its role both in the development of British institutions and economy, or the under-development that has afflicted countries like Jamaica. As the American writer and journalist, Ta-Nehisi Coates writes: “Plunder in the past made plunder in the present more efficient.”

Another reason why reparations for the historical crime of the British slave trade is so vital lies in the need to educate present and future generations of British citizens on its horrors and to refute the received truth that Britain has always stood as a pillar of human rights, freedom, and civilization. The British Empire was a mass criminal enterprise, involving the rape and super exploitation of a large swathe of the world in order to feed the ravenous greed of the country’s ruling class.

This immorality remains entrenched within the British establishment today with regard to its role as an imperialist gendarme in service to Washington and its hegemonic agenda. It has been responsible for the chaos and carnage that is prevalent around the world over two centuries after the British slave trade was formally abolished in 1807, leading to the conclusion that though the British slave trade was abolished the moral sickness behind it continues to afflict the British ruling elite.

British Prime Minister David Cameron is a case in point. He believes that providing funds to build a prison in Jamaica is something to boast. A country such as Jamaica, whose infrastructure is falling apart, where poverty is endemic, and where social cohesion is near non-existent, is one giant prison. And part of the reason for that is the history of the slave trade.

No true price could ever be placed on the devastation and barbarity of human slavery. But it does demand compensation from a country whose ruling elite and the privileges and wealth it has enjoyed over centuries is dripping in the blood of millions of men, women, and children.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.